The downside of constructing a team like the Dodgers is that players can feel like interchangeable parts. The active roster changes every other day. Roles switch. Not everyone responds well to the instability.
“Obviously, the world’s not perfect,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You want everyone to buy into everything the organization is saying, but we understand they have their lives to think about.”
Which explains the depth of Roberts’ admiration for Alex Wood, who will start Friday night against the Miami Marlins at Dodger Stadium.
The 26-year-old left-hander could have started the season as part of almost any other major league rotation. With the Dodgers, he was part of the opening-day bullpen, as Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu were selected ahead of him as the starters.
Wood could have complained. He could have felt sorry for himself. He could have allowed himself to be overcome with a sense of unfairness. He certainly wouldn’t have been the first.
Except he didn’t do any of that. Instead, he competed.
A quarter of the way into the season, that’s made him the Dodgers’ second-best starting pitcher, behind only Kershaw.
Wood has pitched in eight games, making six starts. He is 4-0 with a 2.27 earned-run average. He has struck out 48 batters in 352/3 innings.
By how he reacted to his temporary move to the bullpen and performed when he was granted a chance to start, Wood revealed something about himself to Roberts.
“It’s a sign of confidence,” Roberts said.
Wood knew he would get a chance, and he knew when he did, he would perform. Or, as the soft-spoken 26-year-old said, “It’s out of your control.” So why concern himself with something he couldn’t do anything about?
Wood described himself as confident, but also realistic. That second characteristic helped him assess his situation heading into spring training.
The Dodgers were stacked with starting pitching, including 20-year-old Julio Urias, who was on an innings limit and scheduled to open the season in the minor leagues. Of the starting pitchers, Wood had the most experience pitching in relief, having done so as a rookie with the Atlanta Braves in 2013.
“It would be one thing if there were other guys in our rotation who I felt didn’t belong,” Wood said. “But we have six or seven guys who are all worthy of being in a rotation. It just so happens I’m one of the only ones who has ever been in a bullpen or had success there. I realized that it made sense, in a way. You have this depth and it’s what you build your club around. Why are you going to diminish that depth? As hard it was for me to tell that to myself, I understood it.”
Over his previous four seasons, Wood had learned something about life in the major leagues.
“Sometimes, in this game, it’s hard because you deserve things you don’t get and you don’t deserve things you do get,” he said. “It goes both ways.”
His experiences prepared him for this season.
There was the shocking trade that sent him from the Braves to the Dodgers two seasons ago. Wood attended the University of Georgia. He was a second-round pick of the Braves. He was raised in nearby North Carolina.
“It was tough,” he said. “I think everybody wants to play for the team that drafted them for their whole career. In the back of your head, that’s always your dream.”
There were also injuries. He had reconstructive elbow surgery as a senior in high school. He was slowed by an injured foot in 2015. Last season, he was hurt swinging a bat.
“My first time going on the DL was because of swinging a stinkin’ baseball bat,” Wood said.
Starting the season in the bullpen was nothing compared to that.
He was certain he would have a chance to start over the course of the six-month regular season. And he sensed the adjustments he made to his delivery would increase the velocity of his fastball, which, in turn, would make his changeup and knuckle curve more effective.
He was right on both counts. Now, he’s become as permanent a part of the rotation as he could be.
Wood smiled as he reflected on how his season has unfolded.
“It’s always very interesting, the different paths that people take to different points in their careers and even their lives,” he said.
He pointed to his experience pitching in relief for the Braves. That experience placed him again in the bullpen at the start of this season, but it’s also made him more mentally resilient.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I gained from that bullpen experience, having that short memory,” he said. “I learned to roll with the punches a little bit.”
If the Dodgers do what they’re expected this season, they will still be playing in October. There will be another competition among the team’s starting pitchers, this time for the three or four places in the postseason rotation. Wood will be ready. He’s made that clear.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez